Red Ear Syndrome (RES) was the subject of a recent post in this section.  RES can be painfully debilitating in some people, while other people experience it as painless and more a curiosity than a problem. It may be under-diagnosed because people either don’t report it to their health care providers or the providers are unfamiliar with the syndrome.  It is not familiar to most audiologists, or at least is not taught as a syndrome in regular audiology training.  

Today’s post is a Q&A initiated by a reader who responded to the RES post.

Q:  SARAH:  Has there been any link to RES and Shingles in the ear?

A:  HHTM:  Yes, and thanks for asking because we didn’t know there was a connection until you brought it up.  As with everything about RES, the connection is not well documented and the neural connections are speculative.  Read on.

We found a non-medical site– Neurocritic—which aims to “deconstruct sensationalist findings” in brain research.  Like RES, the site is a bit obscure, off the beaten path, highly individual, but interesting and informative.  Hard to vouch for the veracity of the information, but where else are we going to find out stuff about RES, especially when we’re trying to find out if it’s linked to another mysterious disease/syndrome like Shingles?  With that caveat in mind, here’s what The Neurocritic had  to say about RES:

“[RES] …can also occur in association with migraines, glossopharyngeal and trigeminal neuralgia, upper cervical spine pathology, and herpes zoster [shingles].”

All are painful conditions.  So painful that having a red ear might not seem like a big deal in the midst of an attack.  In such cases, RES may seem like a symptom of other diseases and syndromes, rather than a syndrome on its own.  The picture above of an ear with Shingles shows a very red ear  but the person in the picture is probably in so much pain that he could care less about the color of his ear. That might explain why RES seems to be under-reported and frequently misdiagnosed, at least in painful cases.  

But, we are Audiologists, not physicians.  We want to know whether hearing loss occurs with  RES.  So far, those reporting RES do not mention hearing loss in association with the effect.  But, the link to Shingles points the way to a bigger question that piques our audiological interest and will constitute a series of future posts:

Q:  What is Shingles and is it associated with hearing loss?

 

photo courtesy of shingles info

Guest contributor Mary Josebelle Alusin takes readers on a personal ear wax journey.

 

Growing up with my mom for 27 years has made me witness how consistent she is in taking out the earwax from her ears. It actually has become a habit since she cleans them  after taking a bath EVERY DAY using cotton swabs. I have been telling her that it’s not advisable to use swabs to  remove the earwax as they can push it down into the canal. But she keeps on making excuses by saying that she’s not pushing the swabs too far inside. To avoid any heated argument, I just believe her and then walk away.

For some people, earwax is dirty and gross. I used to believe such notion when my mother, for so many years, used to clean my ears. As I reached around 11 or 12 years old, she stopped not because she wanted to, but because I wanted to do the cleaning myself. Admit it, there is that relieving sensation once you move a cotton swab inside the ear.

But around 2013, I gradually stopped removing the earwax. My former boss told me that it should not always be removed since it naturally cleans the ears and goes out from the organ on its own. At first, it was hard to believe. But after reading a few health articles online and watching documentaries incidentally, I decided I needed to cut the habit that my mother implicitly passed on to me.

 

The Importance of Earwax

 

Earwax, as defined by an article published in Harvard Health Publications, is a natural cleaning agent typically found in the ears. As a cleanser, it moves out from the inner ear canal, taking hair, dead skin cells, bacteria, and dirt with it. It also prevents elements from getting inside the ear canals.

This is the primary reason why removing earwax is not an ideal thing to do. Wax may look undesirable, but it contains antifungal and antibacterial properties to keep our ears protected. There is no need to poke it out since it usually becomes flakes and goes out without you noticing it.

 

Earwax as a Health Indicator

 

If there isn’t enough earwax in the ears, it’s going to be uncomfortable and itchy. However, having too much of it may cause discomforts, infections, or worse, hearing impairments that may require you to spend money on earwax removal.

But aside from the discomforts caused by excessive earwax, did you know that your sticky, ear goop can warn you about potential health issues of which you may be unaware? Here are some of them as provided by MSN and Reader’s Digest:

 

Keratitis Obturans

 

This is a rare ear disease that is characterized by abnormal earwax production which doesn’t naturally go out of the ear canal. It builds up inside the canal and turns into a hard plug that may obstruct your hearing. Brett Comer, MD, an otolaryngologist and assistant professor at the University of Kentucky, said if the condition persists, you will experience other symptoms like fullness  discomfort, and pain.

 

Infections

 

There are cases when doctors can’t pinpoint the cause of an infection. But earwax can be an  indicator of disease. These symptoms are the following:

  1. Color – According to Benjamin Tweel, MD, an otolaryngologist at The Mount Sinai Hospital, a healthy earwax is usually light orange to dark brown in color. But if the color is black, green, white, or yellow, then it may suggest an infection, which needs an immediate checkup.
  2. Odor – Normally, earwax doesn’t have an odor. But if it smells strange or pungent, that can indicate a health problem.
  3. Watery – When you sweat, your ears may also be sweaty, but that’s normal. However, if you haven’t done any perspiring activity, and your ears discharge a watery, greenish or yellowish earwax, that can signify an infection or a chronic disease.
  4. Itchy – There are instances when the ears become itchy. But if the itch persists, especially in the canals, then you may have an infection that requires a medical attention.

 

Aging

 

Of course, all of us become old. As my mother used to tell me, “Getting old is inevitable. We are all going there.” But what does earwax have to do with aging? Apparently, when your earwax becomes flakier, drier, thicker, or darker in color, then that means you are getting old.

 

References

 

Harvard Health Letter. Got an Ear Full? Here’s Some Advice. Harvard Health Publications, March 18, 2016.    

How Much Does Ear Wax Removal Cost In 2017?Cost Mentor. Cost Mentor, 21 May 2017.

Heid, Markham. 6 Things Your Earwax Says About Your Health. Prevention, Aug 4, 2016.

Jung, Alyssa. 7 things your earwax could reveal about your health. Reader’s Digest.

 

Author Bio: 

Mary Josebelle Alusin has a degree in Mass Communications from the University of the Philippines. She has been a content writer for almost five years already and has published a number of articles throughout her career. She is currently working as a content writer for CostMentor.com, a website that provides general information on commodity prices. She lives with her mom who has hearing problems. She is also a single parent to a beautiful 5-year-old daughter who is suspected with ADHD. Despite the challenges she encounters, she remains happy and contented in life.

 

feature image from The Doctors